AfloatMagazine: Skellig Michael Set For Film Shoot - Could It Be Star…
YouTube Vimeo Twitter Facebook
Saturday, 02 March 2013

Abandon Ship! The Rescue of the Crew of Wolfhound

survivors
Survivors - the crew of Wolfhound in Dun Laoghaire twenty days after they were hauled aboard the rescue ship off Bermuda are (left to right) Morgan Crowe, Declan Hayes (the poet), Tom Mulligan and Alan McGettigan
Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Email More...

#wolfhound – Abandon ship!!! Complete with its insistent screamers (that's exclamation marks to you and me), it's such a hoary old nautical cliché that when it happens, you expect awesome background music to roll, with the blackest of black clouds overhead tearing apart to reveal some majestic and divine portent.

But the reality these days is that with well-established International Laws of the Sea in place, and time-tested global rescue procedures working effectively supported by the latest in basic emergency radio communication, once it has moved beyond a life-and-death situation with the rescue achieved, it very quickly becomes a humdrum matter of filing reports, completing forms, and submitting to official enquiries.

Such routine is important for everyone, and not least the rescued. It puts their experiences into perspective, it makes them realise that what has happened to them is not horribly unique, and it gives them a reasonable feeling that while they have suffered an acute personal setback, perhaps it can now be of some benefit to others. By slipping into established post-rescue formalities and analysis, the process of mental and physical recovery can be quietly begun.

Obviously the situation is completely different if there has been loss of life. But happily, in the matter of the rescue of the crew of four from the Irish-owned Swan 48 Wolfhound 70 miles off Bermuda on the morning of Saturday February 9th 2013, apart from one non-acutely wounded hand, there was no serious injury involved. So we can now examine how a very attractive project to take part in the sun-filled RORC Caribbean 600 Race in a fine 12-year-old Swan 48 newly-purchased in New England, and subsequently sail the boat home across the Atlantic to Ireland after cruising the Caribbean, became so totally unravelled in an extreme winter storm in the Gulf Stream.

Alan McGettigan (52) has made his career in the oil and gas exploration business. One of the founders of successful frontline operator Petroceltic, his work has taken him to harsh and volatile places which, if they weren't already dangerous to be in at the time, inevitably became dangerous with their added strategic significance when his prospecting was successful. It was a working life outside normal comfort zones, so as a sailing enthusiast – when he could get the time – he also pushed the limits of the possibilities in cruising.

SailSat020313pic2

Alan McGettigan in Dun Laoghaire 27/02/13 Photo: W M Nixon

A dozen or so years ago, he bought a Ron Holland-designed Swan 43 which he called Wolfhound. Though time was initially limited, six years ago he began a long-term cruise aimed at circumnavigating western Europe, beginning with a west-east transit of the Mediterranean in which – unusually – he focused in the early stages on the coast of North Africa.

Being very much part of the Dun Laoghaire sailing community, he has like-minded friends – many of them boat-owners themselves – to make up a crew panel on which he could draw for congenial ship's company, people who in turn were enthused by his interest in going to unusual places. Despite the turmoil in the region, with each succeeding season Wolfhound found herself getting further east, and in time she explored the Black Sea in some detail before – in the summer of 2011 – she shaped her course into the Danube.

But after the worst drought in a hundred years, the great river's levels were so low that Wolfhound's draught prevented them getting any further than fifty kilometres upriver, so they returned to the Black Sea coast, and arranged to lay the boat up afloat for the winter in the attractive Romanian port of Constanta. But then in November, too late to move to another port, Alan had a call from the harbour that they required Wolfhound to be lifted out and laid up ashore, for which the yard would provide the cradle.

Although he preferred her to be afloat in the sheltered little marina, he flew out and supervised the transfer ashore. Then in January the yard was in contact again to say that an extreme winter storm was moving south from Siberia, and there was a danger that boats ashore on the quay would be engulfed in snow and ice. But the weather was already so bad that Constanta airport was closed down. So Alan could do nothing but await the worst as the yard emailed him photos which showed Wolfhound disappearing under her own private iceberg which eventually weighed more than ten tonnes. The cradle collapsed, and the boat sustained further serious damage in falling on her side under yet more snow and ice.

Although badly damaged, she was repairable, yet she would only be acknowledged as a proper Swan if the repairs were done by Nautor Swan themselves in Finland. But that process with its long transportation would be prohibitively expensive. The insurers preferred a yard they'd found in Bulgaria. Eventually, the stalemate was broken with a deal in June, the insurers paying up the insured value, and keeping the damaged boat.

So Alan found himself boatless in June 2012, but with an unexpected accumulation of significant boat-buying resources, as he sold up his shareholding in Petroceltic in 2012. The world was his oyster, or rather his Swan, and he toyed with the idea of an attractive readily-available Swan 60 in the south of France, and a Swan 651 in the UK.

But this resulted in a certain thoughtful sucking-in of the breath among his regular crew panel. They pointed out that if he was seduced into going above a certain size, their cosy all-friends-together-as-equals arrangement would almost certainly be disrupted by the need to carry professional crew, particularly if the boat was going to be moving around exotic and distant locations.

Those of us who mess about in smaller boats are happily untroubled by this critical change of boat management requirements above a certain size. Indeed, it's a problem for which most of us would have scant sympathy. But it is very real for those who have the means and inclination for a larger boat in which they can really cover the ground and get comfortably, if somewhat impersonally, to distant places, if they're prepared to go with the potentially disruptive presence of professional crew making them feel like passengers on their own boat.

SailSat020313pic3
"A modern Moonduster". The Frers-designed Swan 48 is nearly 50ft long, and is an up-dated glassfibre sister of Denis Doyle's famous Moonduster

By September 2012, however, things were back on track with the location of a 12 year old Swan 48 in Connecticut. Originally designed by German Frers in 1994, the boat is actually just a matter of inches under 50ft LOA, which made her the equivalent of an up-dated production version of Denis Doyle's legendary Moonduster. As one of the senior members of the eclectic McGettigan Crew Panel had sailed many successful races with The Doyler on The Duster, it was reckoned that this was all as it was meant to be, as it offered the additional prospect of an immediate season or two in the Caribbean with a boat which was of a size to be still manageable without a professional crew.

This also offered the possibility of racing the Caribbean 600 in February 2013, an attractive idea as the boat came with a formidable wardrobe of sails. But if that aim was to be comfortably fulfilled, the boat had to be ready to sail south to the Caribbean in November, when fleets of boats make the journey south from New England as soon as the hurricane season is over.

However, with Superstorm Sandy wreaking havoc in the New York coastal area in September, it was impossible to bring things to fruition as quickly as hoped. Despite the shared language, buying a boat in the US can be much more difficult than buying one in Europe. And as you finally do close the deal, you are already discovering that boats in America, while seemingly identical to their sister-ships in Europe, can often carry very different equipment.

So the programme slipped, but by late November Alan was doing sea trials on Long Island Sound with a surveyor, and by early December he had been given a favourable report, and negotiations were drawing towards a conclusion through a broker with an owner - never personally met - who lived in another distant American state.

Finally, with the seller faced with the exigencies of the end of the tax year on December 31st, the deal was concluded on that last day of 2012. Meanwhile, back in Ireland over the Christmas/New Year holiday, the crewing arrangements were firmed up between those who were to do the delivery passage in late January/early February from Connecticut to the Caribbean via Bermuda, those who then wished to do the Caribbean 600 Race on February 18th, and those who would cruise the islands afterwards.

It was a very busy time with the new boat, now re-named Wolfhound, being transferred to Irish ownership with details like the IRC rating being re-issued by the ISA. But on 25th January Alan and three long-time shipmates arrived in Connecticut knowing that the weather prospects were bad with Snowstorm Nemo developing over the northeast United States, but equally knowing that a favourable weather window would follow it.

However, they knew there were some days of work to be done in any case before they could sail, and by the time that was completed the economy of Connecticut had benefited from the Wolfhound campaign by a significant amount. As expected, a new top-of-the-range Viking liferaft had to be installed, but less clearly expected was the necessary acquisition of a new Zodiac inflatable tender and outboard, and completely inexplicable was the need to install a new Charger/Inverter, the original having disappeared. The boat, in other words, was not precisely as Alan remembered her from the last time he'd seen her in early December, but with goodwill all round she was made ready for sea.

Thanks to friends in the Cruising Club of America, Alan and his crew had a briefing session with people well used to sailing the 650 miles to Bermuda at 1215 on Saturday 2nd February, and at 1530 hrs they headed out round the northeast end of Long Island and shaped their course parallel with the American coast towards Cape May in order to slip between weather systems and get in to more clement conditions as quickly as possible, for though the winds were favourable northerlies and easing after the storm force winds of Nemo, the temperature was minus 8.

SailSat020313pic4
Getting through the ice departing from Connecticut on the afternoon of Saturday February 2nd. As darkness drew on, the temperatures plunged. Photo: Alan McGettigan

In such conditions, it was so cold that they motored with only the mainsail set, and put in watches of only half an hour. But progress was good and through Day 2 (Sunday February 3rd), everything was going according to plan, they were finding their weather window, and it was even getting slightly – just very slightly – warmer, as by now the wind was easterly, though as it was 30 knots with some gusts to 50 knots it was by no means the "champagne sailing" they'd been promising themselves once they got down to Cape May.

By Monday morning conditions permitted one hour watches and soon they were sailing properly, but there was concern about a new weather system developing to the eastward in the tail of Storm Nemo. However, satisfactory progress was being maintained and they were able to move up to two hour watches with half hour rotations. The going was good, but that was as good as it was to get. In order to keep up battery power, they tried to put the new Mastervolt Charger/Invertor into service on the remote setting, but the indicator light failed to show. This was serious. They were halfway through the passage to Bermuda, but knew that unless someone aboard suddenly discovered his own previously unrevealed genius as an electrical and electronics engineer, by Day 4 (Tuesday February 5th), all systems except the engine would be down through lack of power – this duly happened at 0350hrs on the Tuesday.

They were now halfway between the American mainland and Bermuda, but with the frequently changing wind by this time from the west, it didn't make sense to try to beat for the Chesapeake as the nearest mainland all-weather port of refuge, even if Bermuda is a place difficult of access. So they pressed on, but later on the Tuesday the engine failed to re-start. It was found that it could be run intermittently, and as it had been serviced before leaving, the suspicion was that grunge in the fuel tank – the boat had been effectively out of commission for more than a year – was causing fuel blockages, so they made do without the motor, as any use would only make the blockage problem worse, and maybe damage the engine.

Their situation was seriously unpleasant, for although cooking had been by gas, the top-of-the-line American marine cooker relied on an electrically-powered safety switch for its ignition. So for the time being they endured cold food – mostly breakfast cereals and fruit – and resisted the temptation to cut the gas line and by-pass the safety connection to the stove, though without heating of any sort and only cold food, the effect on morale was dire.

By now they were getting into very bad weather again with huge seas and rising winds, and on Day 5 (Wednesday February 6th) the furled headsail (it was the Number 4) was simply shredded by the strength of the wind despite being rolled. But conditions had eased enough the following day to get the remains down and cleared from the forestay.

Despite everything, they were getting near Bermuda, for even with their problems they had averaged 5.5 knots from Connecticut. But the weather was once again deteriorating, and now their sense of being cut off from all assistance was exacerbated by the discovery that their hand-held VHF was completely discharged, even though it had been fully charged ashore prior to departure, while their location was too remote for personal mobiles to be of any use.

SailSat020313chart
So near and yet so far.....Wolfhound's route towards Bermuda

So with all systems down, visibility very poor and conditions deteriorating, with the vessel getting a horrendous pounding with a couple of knockdowns and chaotic dislocation below to such a degree that it was safer to remain on deck, the only navigational information available was through a single iPad which was already down to 15% power. But even if they could find their way the final fifty miles to Bermuda, they had no engine power to get through the intricate reefs and St George's Channel.

Throughout all this, Alan recalls that he never heard a voice raised in anger or frustration – he had shipmates to cherish. And that's what he did. He cherished them. Much and all as he'd had great hopes for his new boat, he decided that the risks to life and limb in trying to make the final rock-strewn miles to Bermuda were simply too great. It was a choice of putting his friends' lives at great risk, or abandoning ship. It was no contest. He activated the EPIRB at 1530 hours on Friday February 8th.

coastguardcover

The offiial US Coastguard report into the rescue is downloadable below as a PDF document

As the American authorities couldn't immediately trace the registration of the EPIRB (see downloadable PDF of Coastguardnews below) they didn't at first know what they were looking for, but that Friday night, Wolfhound was located in darkness by a US Coastguard C130 Hercules aircraft from Norfolk, Virginia, which dropped emergency supplies and more importantly indicated to them that help was on the way. Meanwhile Bermuda MRCC instructed two ships in the area, the Empire Champion and the Tetien Trader, to alter course towards Wolfhound.

The Empire Champion was unladen, which made manoeuvring in the extreme weather difficult, but the fully-laden Greek ship Tetien Trader arrived at dawn on Saturday February 9th and did the job. Floating deep, she provided an almost rock-like base onto which the crew of Wolfhound, which was alongside with long warps fore and aft, could be hauled aboard by the sheer brute strength of eight men pulling on a heavy warp which the Irish crew had to tie round themselves using a bowline knot.

SailSat020313pic7
The chaos of Wolfhound's cockpit seen as she lay briefly alongside Tetien Trader during the rescue. Photo: Alan McGettigan

Throughout all this, in a cruel twist the sky had temporarily cleared and there was even a hint of sunshine before the next wave of bad weather closed in again later in the morning, During the rescue, the yacht was rising and falling fifteen to twenty feet up the steel side of the ship, but after the crew had been hauled to safety, the extreme conditions soon snapped the warps holding Wolfhound alongside, and she drifted away. She was not seen to sink, as some reports have suggested, and might even be still out there, alone on the ocean. Her crew meanwhile headed east across the Atlantic on the Tetien Trader, and were landed at Gibraltar on Wednesday February 20th.

SailSat020313Pic8
Last glimpse of Wolfhound from Tetien Trader before the weather closed in again. Photo: Alan McGettigan

SailSat020313pic9
Journey's end. Tetien Trader in Gibraltar on February 20th. Photo: Alan McGettigan

As for what might be learnt from this sad story, that can be analysed in due course, but all that can be said this morning is that it could have been much worse. No lives were lost, nobody was seriously injured. In extremis, the right and proper priorities were observed. Life can go on. Indeed, it was going on almost immediately. On the Transatlantic passage on the Tetien Trader, Declan Hayes was moved to pen some poetry:

Wolfhound (the adventures of Alan, Morgan, Declan & Tom)

Dublin, Boston, then Bermuda bound
To start our journey on the new Wolfhound
Tortola, Antigua, Azores and home
Cutting through the Atlantic foam

It was oh so very, very cold
As we set out on our journey bold
Dreaming of the warm Gulf Stream
And the Caribbean sun on our beam

But that was never going to be
As we battled wind and heavy seas
All power went and food was low
As we were battered about in the merciless blow

We signalled help by satellite
But no help came until the night
The drone of engines in the sky
Then searchlights allowed them us to spy

By daylight two ships had answered our call
But we could not board due to swell and squall
Persistence paid and one by one
We were hoisted aboard, it was no fun!

Wolfhound crashed against the mighty hull
Then broke her lines with a mighty pull
She drifted past the stern abeam
The end of Alan's epic dream

Aboard the ship, the Tetien Trader
Our lives intact, disappointment faded
A nicer crew you could not have chosen
The captain, cook, not least the bo'sun

Ten days we spent on that good ship
Before they let us off at the Rock of Gib
A trip I doubt we will ever forget
So very different from travelling by jet!

The moral of the story is plain to see
You never know what's going to be
Life is precious and full of hope
A boat's just plastic, metal and rope

Time will pass and memories fade
But the experience is there, forever made
Another part of who you are
Another story for the bar!

 

Comment on this story?

We'd like to hear from you on any aspect of this blog!  Leave a message in the box below or email William Nixon on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

9 comments

  • Comment Link To bring a Ghost Ship Wednesday, 22 May 2013 19:39 posted by To bring a Ghost Ship

    The Wolfhound is still afloat, last seen & pictured approx. 800 Nautical Miles S.E. Of Bermuda on April 12, 2013 by a Martin Butler.

    http://afloat(dot)ie/sail/cruising/item/21432-wolfhound-didnt-sink-shes-adrift-800-miles-se-of-bermuda#.UWvbzWFPAPc.facebook

    Wolfhound is not in the greatest of shape, but yet still floating w/ mast still in position yet missing the forestay & backstay, so towing that old hound could be reasonably dangerous to any salvager.

    That mast breaks and holes the hull it could drag anything but a much larger ship to the bottom w/ her. But, sailboats don't sink as quickly as some others do being plastic, metal, & rope. And a $500K prize awaits to the brave salvager who does succeed at the task.

    Anyone know the current ownership situation (did the ins. company pay up?), beyond the fact that it was abandoned at sea and set adrift by the eventually rescued crew?

    I'd sure like permission from the owner in writing to play finders keepers and make one fair weather attempt to bring in a Wolfhound and tame it. Lol.

  • Comment Link Eric Wiberg Monday, 15 April 2013 18:46 posted by Eric Wiberg

    I've done over 30 sailing voyages to/from BDA, including December and March. It can be done in the right weather. Very unfortunate to have had to abandon S/Y WOLFHOUND but I can't second-guess the skipper. The most important element is the lack of serious injury or loss of life. I feel that RCC Bermuda / Bermuda Harbour Radio, working with US and EU rescue coordinators like AMVER are among the best in the business. I've also had to abandon a yacht (S/Y STIARNA, off Trinidad, Jan. 2000) on fire which shortly sank. It seems the crew of the WOLFHOUND did everything they could.
    PS I hope no one dies trying to salvage WOLFHOUND off Bermuda, which happened to 60-foot classich yacht S/Y ALTAIR - details below. Sadly a life was lost trying to salvage the floating derelict. This is from the archives of the RCC Bermuda (link below):
    Friday 29th November 8:50 am The rescue of four persons occurred this morning approximately 300 miles northwest of Bermuda. The 1,100ft Barbados registered tanker Irving Primrose enroute from St John, New Brunswick to Freeport, Bahamas, received a distress call from the 60ft yacht Altair who reported her primary and emergency steering systems had failed during heavy weather. Given the yacht's disabled condition, along with the poor physical condition of a female crewmember who was dehydrated from sea sickness, the decision was made to abandon the Altair. The 300,000 ton tanker conducted the transfer of the two male and two female U.S. crewmembers despite 25 to 35kt winds and 20ft seas. The Altair had been on a voyage from New Jersey to St Martin. The Altair's crew are reported to be in good health on board the tanker as she continues her voyage to the Bahamas.
    Sailing vessel Altair previously abandoned by her crew on November 29th after steering failure, remains adrift in the area Northwest of Bermuda. The Altair was last sighted at position 34-01N 67-22W on December 8th by the LNG tanker Matthew (see photos attached). Vessel remains a hazard to navigation, and mariners should keep a sharp lookout and report further sightings.
    Tuesday 7th January 7:20pm Relatives of the crew aboard the Fishing Vessel New Nuts II contact Bermuda Harbour Radio concerned that the vessel departed port Monday 6th and has not yet returned. The 3 crew onboard were attempting to recover the abandoned Sailing Vessel Altair which was last seen 80 miles north of Bermuda by a passing ship. Harbour Radio attempted to contact the New Nuts II on various marine frequencies without success. Concern for the boat further intensified when EPIRB signals were detected in the general area that the New Nuts was believed to be operating. The U.S. Coast Guard's Atlantic Area Command Centre in Norfolk, VA. were contacted regarding tasking of a C-130 search aircraft to determine the source of the distress beacon alerts. Meanwhile urgency broadcasts to all vessels in the area to keep sharp lookout for the boat were commenced.
    The C-130 aircraft arrived to locate the EPIRB in the early morning hours of January 8th and found westerly winds of 35 to 40 knots and estimated 15 foot seas. At sunrise an unused liferaft canister, seat cushion and empty life jacket were all found clustered in the area of the EPIRB transmission 72 miles Northeast of Bermuda. There was no sign of the New Nuts II or any other vessel. A second C-130 relieved the first aircraft around mid-day. Nearly immediately they located a person in the water waving at them. A USNS vessel, the hospital ship Comfort, was in the area and was diverted to the scene. Meanwhile a Bermuda Government tug was also dispatched from Bermuda to further assist rescue efforts. The USCG C-130 dropped a survival package by parachute to the person in the water and he was able to climb into one of the inflated liferafts. Within 2 hours the USNS Comfort had maneuvered alongside the raft and recovered Mr. Robert Lambe Jr, the owner and skipper of the New Nuts.
    Mr. Lambe was hypothermic, but conscious, and reported that the New Nuts II had been capsized just after nightfall Tuesday evening by a large wave that hit the boat broadside. The boat was observed to sink after some 20 minutes. He had spent some 19 hours clinging to a piece of debris from the boat for buoyancy. He had not seen his two fellow crewmen since before the capsize. With due consideration of Mr. Lambe's failure to see his companions emerge from the overturned hull prior to it sinking; the exhaustive aircraft search of the area through the day and their success in locating Mr. Lambe and various items of debris; plus the survival expectancy for a person in the water - the active search was suspended at sunset.
    Wednesday 1st January 1:15 pm Two local men got into difficulties attempting to recover an abandoned sailboat 54 miles Northwest of Bermuda. The sailboat 'Altair' had been sighted by several ships over the last few weeks, drifting steadily closer to Bermuda after having been abandoned by her 4 man crew back in November (see November 2002 incidents). A sighting Tuesday afternoon by the M/V Oleander enroute from Bermuda to New Jersey resulted in the foreign owner of the sailboat contacting local fishermen who took the 36 foot powercraft "Sundeck" to sea in a bid to salvage the yacht.
    After arriving in the area where the Altair was last sighted Wednesday morning, the crew of the Sundeck conducted a search for the yacht without success. Later that afternoon they encountered engine cooling pump problems that resulted in the Sundeck being disabled. With no other long range radio communication onboard, and fearing the worst, they activated two emergency beacons that they carried onboard. The separate satellite beacon alerts was indication enough to RCC Bermuda staff that a serious problem existed onboard. Harbour Radio staff commenced urgent broadcasts to shipping in the area to assist, while a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 flight was also requested. Within a few hours however the crew of the Sundeck had been able to make repairs to the engine to allow them to limp close enough to the island to re-establish VHF radio communication with Bermuda Harbour Radio and explain their predicament. While Harbour Radio monitored their progress back to port, the Coast Guard aircraft flight was cancelled along with requests for assistance from shipping. The Sundeck safely entered St. George's Harbour at 9:50 pm.
    Meanwhile the Altair remains adrift, and Bermuda Harbour Radio continues to alert passing vessels to the potential danger from this hazard to navigation.

    Source: http://www.gov.bm/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_0_564_0_0_43/http;/ptpublisher.gov.bm;7087/publishedcontent/publish/ministry_of_tourism_and_transport/marine_and_ports/dept___marine_and_ports___marine_incidents/articles/january_2003.html
    Enter "november_2002.html" at the end to get a different month.

  • Comment Link Captain Marcus Monday, 15 April 2013 18:00 posted by Captain Marcus

    That should be God Bless ...

  • Comment Link Captain Marcus Monday, 15 April 2013 17:56 posted by Captain Marcus

    I started to follow this story after hearing of the boat being found 800 miles east of Bda.
    ATLANTIC JIM, your comments are PERFECT.... As a blue water Bermuda captain who considers the north atlantic my neighborhood, There were so many mistakes. Although I would normally head straight for Bermy, they should of went down the coast as Jim pointed out and from Hatteras in better weather made a line for the carribbean south of Bda.
    If I had an ipad on a boat it would never of come out of my kit except to listen to music or view pic's on those lonely nights...
    Give me a paper chart, barometer, 2 spare hand held GPS, EPIRB, and I'll take it from there. When "degree of uncomfortability" gets to extreme people make bad decisions. Turning the boat to downwind and underway changes everthing...
    I will always continue to learn and will from your misadventure.
    And yes, it is just plastic, metal, and rope, God less!

  • Comment Link greg Sunday, 14 April 2013 03:56 posted by greg

    you don't go into the gulf stream in winter gales period.it will hand you your lunch and watch you eat it.

  • Comment Link J Swimmer Saturday, 09 March 2013 06:26 posted by J Swimmer

    While I don't generally advise taking a plastic boat through the ice(see picture no. 1), there is a great book (Down Denmark Straight) about prepping and sailing a CCA era Swan 43 "Reindeer" to the Arctic circle. Worth reading if you're interested in cold sailing.

  • Comment Link Atlantic Jim Friday, 08 March 2013 05:32 posted by Atlantic Jim

    A very sad story, but it raises more questions than it answers. That is a very serious passage to undertake in February. By no means impossible, but only to be approached with adequate preparation, weather planning and crew. Doing it without that risks not only the boat and crew but the lives of first responders.

    I'll get in to ocean routing questions later, but for heavens' sake why didn't they go out Long Island Sound past NYC instead of directly to sea? It would have added barely any distance (given their ultimate route probably nothing) but allowed a protected shake down cruise with many options for stopping, shortened the total ocean passage and allowed them to reevaluate both weather and boat when they got to New York Harbor, delaying or cancelling their departure as needed.

    Being without electricity on an auxiliary sailboat is hardly a rare occurrence (just ask Don Street). Why weren't they prepared? At least have a portable GPS and VHF that run on replaceable AA batteries (very standard and cheap). Or in the iPad age do we assume Steve Jobs will solve all problems? That said, the Mastervolt going out should be an easily correctable problem. I'm not expert in the Swan 48's wiring, but apparently the alternator was still putting out power to the engine battery. And couldn't they at least charge up the iPad off of that battery? Similarly, it should be easy to bypass the electric solenoid safety valve on the propane tank. Embarking on that kind of journey without the tools, parts or know how to do that is plain irresponsible. I also don't think I would have attempted that passage without some form of cabin heating. It's one thing to freeze on watch, it's essential to warm up and dry out in between.

    I can't comment too specifically on the route as I don't know exactly where the weather systems were or where the Gulfstream was running. But we all know the winds go counter-clockwise around the lows in that hemisphere. Why were they beating into that? I must believe there was a moment where they either needed to head East or West back to the mainland. I hope they were monitoring a barometer for the lows (no power required) and that they had a mechanical thermometer for monitoring the Gulfstream. With those two tools plus a compass, a flashlight and a general sense of the boat's speed it should have been possible to get to Bermuda without any electricity.

    Getting into Bermuda could be tricky but shouldn't require abandoning a $500,000 yacht. Were they equipped to heave to off of Bermuda until the weather improved? Bermuda certainly has good salvage services that could have gotten them through the reefs even in poor conditions.

    I realize it's unpopular to criticize sailors who have lost their boat, but I think we need to learn from these experiences, and it appears to me that these folks might have been better off with that paid crew telling them what to do.

  • Comment Link James Riordan Tuesday, 05 March 2013 11:14 posted by James Riordan

    always sad to lose a boat but a happy ending.When reading the article it becomes clear very quickly that the priority became getting to the race and because of that a proper shakedown wasnt done.It was a poor decision to go to sea at that time of the year in a boat that had been ashore for a year .Its the old story that making a passage when the main priority is getting there ,then common sense goes out the window

  • Comment Link Hendrikus Wisker Saturday, 02 March 2013 16:57 posted by Hendrikus Wisker

    Great writing Thank You..! And very nice Poem
    More luck on the next boat, will be hard to find a insurance Co. no doubt.

 

newsletter graphic

If you'd like more news, views and stories about Ireland's sailing, boating and maritime scene please sign up to our enews letter, follow us on facebook and twitter

 

W M Nixon

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago.